Daphne Oram (Devizes, Wilts, 1925; Maidstone, Kent, 2003) was a composer who specialised in electroacoustic music, and the inventor of the Oramics electronic composition machine. She was the first woman anywhere in the world to direct an electronic music studio (the newly-founded BBC Radiophonic Workshop, 1958), the first woman to set up a personal studio (1959), and the only woman to design and construct (with specialist assistance) an electronic music instrument (from 1962). It seems likely that she was also the first woman to create music software for a desktop computer (1981).
In addition to the works listed here, her compositional output includes several other early instrumental works, background music for radio, television (including commercials), theatre and short industrial and publicity films; of these only her two first pioneering soundtracks for BBC productions from 1957 are listed below, produced before the foundation of the Radiophonic Workshop.
While at school she studied piano, organ and composition privately. Although she was offered a place at the Royal College of Music in 1943, she decided instead to start work as a music balancer for the BBC in London. Around 1956 her long-standing attempts to convince the BBC of the value of the new electronic music and musique concrÍte started to bear fruit: she assembled a temporary studio late at night after broadcasting had finished, sometimes with a like-minded colleague from the drama department, Desmond Briscoe, producing background music and sonic treatments for several radio and television broadcasts. In April 1958 the BBC set up the Radiophonic Workshop with Oram as its director; its focus was entirely on the production of background music for radio and television. After the BBC had sent her as an observer to the JournÚes Internationales de Musique ExpÚrimentale during the Brussels World Fair early in October 1958, where she was able to hear recent works from several major studios (with many leading composers present), she decided to resign, cashing in her pension.
In January 1959 she moved to Tower Folly, a converted oast-house near Wrotham in Kent, which she appears to have purchased a couple of years earlier; here she installed a studio in a circular room at the base of the tower. Inevitably her output was largely commercial, but covered a wider range than at the Radiophonic Workshop; among several concert works Four Aspects (1960) has evoked considerable interest since it was recently issued on CD. She also lectured widely on electronic music, usually in the form of a demonstration of basic studio techniques, invariably providing all the equipment herself. Among the venues were the Mermaid Theatre in London, the Edinburgh International and Bromsgrove Festivals and many schools and colleges. For several years from 1959 Morley College in London sponsored residential weekend courses at Tower Folly, and between 1982 and 1989 she gave classes in electronic music for one day a week at Christ Church College, Canterbury. Her book An Individual Note of Music, Sound and Electronics (1972), considers the medium in a highly individual, philosophical and very feminine manner.
Other composers who worked in OramÍs private studio were Ivor Walsworth (four works, two in collaboration with Oram listed below), Thea Musgrave (three works) and Hugh Davies (two works).
Future plans for her work include a CD of her music and a dedicated website.
Daphne Oram: Electronic Sound Patterns. 'Listen, Move and Dance - 3', HMV 7EG 8762 (mono, 17 cm, 45rpm); HMV CLP 3762 (mono, 30cm, 33rpm; one side); 'Listen, Move and Dance, Volume 2', Capitol H-21007 (mono, 30 cm, 33 rpm; one side; USA).
Thea Musgrave: Soliloquy, for guitar and tape [assisted by Daphne Oram]. Deutsche Grammophon 2530 079; 1971?
Daphne Oram: The Innocents [film]. 20th Century Fox [NTSC video]; 1996.
Daphne Oram: Four Aspects [4'51'' exc.]. 'Not Necessarily English MusicÍ', Leonardo Music Journal 11 (2-CD set); 2001 / EMF Media EM 136-2 CD; 2001 (2 CD-set issued separately).
Daphne Oram: Four Aspects [complete]. 'An Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music, Volume #2; Second A-Chronology 1936-2003', Sub Rosa SR200 (2 CDs); 2003.
Unperformed. The live electronics required standard radio equipment from the period: treated instrumental recordings on 3 prerecorded 78 rpm discs (sometimes played back at a slower speed or in reverse), the recording studio subdivided into 2 spaces with different acoustics, 5 microphones, and loudness, reverberation and tone controls.
soundtrack for television play by Jean Giraudoux
soundtrack for experimental radio work by Frederick Bradnum (in collaboration with Desmond Briscoe)
Oram's first electronic concert work
Feature film, released in 1961. Oram's electronic sounds and treatments of voices underlie many of the ghostly sequences, while the instrumental music by Georges Auric almost always supplies the 'normal' aspects of the drama.
For a BBC Schools programme.
Sonic background for the British room at the Treasures of the Commonwealth exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London. Subsequently used for a ballet, 'Alpha Omega'.
Four-track sonic background, with mobile sculpture by Andrew Bobrowski; permanently installed for many years in the lobby of Mullard House in London.
Composed in collaboration with Ivor Walsworth. First composition based on Oramics drawn sound.
Based on a poem by Charles Williams. In Arthurian legends, Broceliande is the forest in which Merlin has been imprisoned in a tree.
Composed in collaboration with Ivor Walsworth.
Includes 'Hell Ride' (1960?), 'Donkey Ride to Venus' (1962).Also used for a ballet, 'Xallaraparallax'.